It’s depressingly common to encounter the narrative that the pub closures of the past decade or so have been largely due to badly-managed, short-sighted pub companies acting in concert with bungling councils and grasping developers. Indeed this almost seems to have become the CAMRA orthodoxy.
Yes, pub companies are far from perfect, but this comes across as utterly delusional when you consider all the negative demand factors that have been affecting pubs. Has there really been no impact from the decline of heavy industry, inner-city depopulation, an influx of people from cultures with no pubgoing tradition, changing gender roles, discouragement of lunch¬time drinking at work, denormalisation of drink-driving within the legal limit or the smoking ban?
As I’ve argued before, while it may be possible to construct a narrative for how a particular failed pub could have been better run, it’s far harder to do the same for the pub trade as a whole. There has been a prolonged secular decline in the demand for pubs (or at least for drinking in pubs) that goes well beyond the specifics of individual businesses.
So you have to wonder what is the motivation for these people? Are they basically living in a fantasy world, or are they spurred on by a visceral anti-capitalist agenda that completely ignores the real reasons pubs are closing – often combined with an animus towards the evil supermarkets who have the cheek to sell us a wide range of stuff at keen prices? It almost comes across as a deliberate distraction technique. The one thing that is certain is that they aren’t really interested in the long-term viability of pubs.
Anyone who claims that pub companies are the chief cause of the thirty-year decline of the British pub is completely detached from reality. If you really value pubs, the best way to stand up for them is to fight the anti-drink lobby and the smoking ban, not to wail about the evils of Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns.
And, of course, if it really was a case of lax planning constraints shutting successful pubs, then the pubs that remain would be heaving. Which, in most cases, they aren’t – not to mention the thousands of closed and boarded pubs the length and breadth of the country that are currently neither trading nor yet converted to alternative use.